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                                                          Japan: Under the Rising Sun    

                                                                        by John Sherman Mills                                     Photography Thomas Iver Petersen

 


Nearby produce and fresh fish market

Couple reads their fortune after shaking sticks in temple.

 

 

 

 

In another part of town the Shitamachi Museum
offers an intimate vision of Tokyo as the commercial
center it was in 1868.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Nijo Castle

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Perched on the top lookout of the Tokyo Tower, you can't hear the bustling traffic over 800 feet below.  The everyday sounds of the metropolis underneath you seem unrealistically absent.  You brace yourself for the overpowering 360 degree panoramic view of Asia's gateway city.  The complex urban landscape of Japanese skyscrapers, temples, freeways, ports and parks seems to extend forever. The ominous Mt. Fuji looms in the distance.

My photographer Tom and I are eager to start our exploration of this intriguing country, a collidescopic timepiece filled with jagged pieces of ancient oriental history, modern innovations and futuristic technologies.  Our three-week vacation will allow us an in-depth look at three uniquely different Japanese cities: Tokyo, Nikko and Kyoto.

Tokyo, home to more than 21 million people, has unlimited theaters, museums, art galleries and special exhibitions.  Why there's even a full scale Disneyland within the city limits!  Not to be missed are the Tokyo National Museum, the Shinjuku National Garden, the Japanese Sword Museum, the Ginza shopping district and the Kannon Temple Complex.

The latter is our first stop in the historic Asakusa district.  The discovery of a small statue of a Buddist goddess Kannon in the Sumida River here in 628 was the beginning of what is now a gigantic religious center.  The Sensoji temple, built over a period of 1000 years, stands accompanied by four smaller, red lacquered temples and a towering five-story pagoda.  Fragrant incense burns everywhere, cleansing the faithful who have come to worship.  The Asakusa district is characterized by crowded narrow streets jammed with a colorful mixture of saki shops, teahouses, Kabuki theaters, exotic food stalls and wandering acrobatic performers.

      

Timeless traditions continue as seen by an early morning visit to the 8 square city blocks housing the Tsujiki Fishermen's Market.  Although the market is open to the public, Tom and I find that we are the only tourists around this fast paced scene.  Bizarre sea creatures, most of which I've never seen, are neatly displayed on shaved ice.  Hundreds of truckers eagerly converge to deliver today's catch to the thousands of Tokyo's world famous seafood restaurants.

A unique look into future technologies is to be had at the Sony Center in the fashionable Ginza district.  Here on seven floors of the Sony Building is a mind-boggling exhibition of high tech inventions.  A few can be purchased, but most of the electronic devices are still in their developmental stages.  Visitors are encouraged to use the equipment and provide feedback to the manufacturer.  The incredible multimedia presentations envelop you in holographic and 3D presentations that will one day supercede High Density Television.   Arcades of virtual reality games and computer programs are accompanied by coffee stands and small cafes for those guests spending hours mesmerized by fascinating showplace.

 

An antidote for the frenzy of Tokyo lies two hours to the north inthe spectacular Nikko National Park.  Tom and I take the leisurely excursion on the Tobu railway leaving Asakusa station.   This pleasant route meanders through the tranquil farmlands of Japan's lush countryside and then ascends 3000 feet into a dense mountain forest of Cryptomeria trees.

 

The Nikko Kokuritso Koen National Park is approximately 30 square miles on the southern slope of Mt. Nantai. Here spectacular waterfalls, hot springs, lakeshore beaches, hiking trails and upscale resorts attract both Japanese and international travelers.  A corner of the park is a religious center with 17th century shrines, temples, and mausoleums of Shinto and Buddhist origin.   Mysterious gateways and bridges lead to ornate monuments to past Shoguns and deities.   These colossal buildings are considered to be the elaborately decorated in Japan.

 

This mountainside paradise invites us to luxuriate at one of the three world-class hotels on Lake Chuzenji.  Ours had it's own boathouse and restaurant situated over the lake.  In addition to boating, tennis, golf and swimming, there was the opportunity to be thoroughly pampered with full massage and a traditional Japanese mud bath.  Refreshed, we return to Tokyo to board a bullet train to Japan's ancient capital, Kyoto.  Traveling at 165 m.p.h., we whisk past the foot of Mt. Fuji and arrive at this city in less than three hours.

 

Kyoto is a city of strong traditions, having been the center of Japan's government from the eighth to the eighteenth centuries.  During World War II, suffered minimal damage from enemy bombing.  As a result, Kyoto's 1600 temples and 400 shrines are perfectly preserved today.

 

In the mysterious Sanajusangelo Temple is a mind-boggling display of 1000 life sized gold leafed Kannons dating from 1164.  Many of Japan's antiquities are to be enjoyed in comprehensive museums, such as Kawai Kanjiro Kinekana and Kokuritsu Hakubutsukan. Highlights for sightseers include the gargantuous Heian Shrine, the Imperial Palace and Kiyomezu Temple (below). 


 

Japan is a truly great vacation get-away where any traveler is sure to find the warmest
of welcomes.